Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats find themselves in a no-win situation.
We awoke this morning to the reports that a compromise has been reached between the Bush Administration and Congress on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The best reporting that I've seen on this so far is from the Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman (Deal Set on Domestic Spy Powers). The best (and most humorous) analysis that I've see is at RedState by Moe Lane (The FISA Controversy, in tedious Question and Answer form). It really is a win for the Bush Administration, and a loss for the Democrats, including Barack Obama. The Dems have been screaming for years about this illegal domestic spying program -- this bill puts the lie to that theme. It acknowledges that FISA warrants were never before required for eavesdropping suspects overseas, but that with new systems that routes world-wide communications through the United States, it was time to allow for FISA to be updated to reflect the realities of the latest technologies.
The government will be allowed, in circumstances that dictate it, immediate authority to commence wiretaps as long as they notify the FISA Court within 7 days. The Court would then have 30 days to approve a warrant, during which time the surveillance can continue. The FISA bill also offers retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies who assisted the federal government post-9/11. The current lawsuits by liberal groups will be allowed to go forward, but will be dismissed upon the production of evidence that the companies were complying with the request of the federal government and the President.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the problem all along was the liberal base of the Democratic Party, and their minions in Congress:
The outcome was driven largely by the realities of election-year politics. Democrats, particularly more conservative ones, in vulnerable re-election races couldn't afford to appear to be dodging a big national-security issue. And many believed the law needed to be updated before surveillance orders expired in August. House Democratic leaders struggled for months to find a proposal their entire party could support but couldn't overcome splits between conservative and liberal Democrats -- some of whom are reacting angrily to the deal.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama will have to decide whether to support it and risk the wrath of his party's left wing, or vote against it and risk losing support from independents. One top Democratic lawmaker said the Democrats delayed the announcement by a couple of days, in part to give the presumptive nominee time to assess his position.
Note that last section: "One top Democratic lawmaker said the Democrats delayed the announcement by a couple of days, in part to give the presumptive nominee time to assess his position". Barack Obama is a man who wants to be President. Being President means that you have to be able to make split second decisions, yet Obama needed a few days to figure out what his position was! Talk about not ready for prime time...
Perhaps Obama is worried about statements of his like this from January, posted by Jane Hamsher on Firedoglake.com:
I strongly oppose retroactive immunity in the FISA bill.
Ever since 9/11, this Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand.
The FISA court works. The separation of power works. We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight, and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend.
No one should get a free pass to violate the basic civil liberties of the American people -- not the President of the United States, and not the telecommunications companies that fell in line with his warrantless surveillance program. We have to make clear the lines that cannot be crossed.
That is why I am co-sponsoring Senator Dodd's amendment to remove the immunity provision. Secrecy must not trump accountability. We must show our citizens -- and set an example to the world -- that laws cannot be ignored when it is inconvenient.
A grassroots movement of Americans has pushed this issue to the forefront. You have come together across this country. You have called upon our leaders to adhere to the Constitution. You have sent a message to the halls of power that the American people will not permit the abuse of power - and demanded that we reclaim our core values by restoring the rule of law.
It's time for Washington to hear your voices, and to act. I share your commitment to this cause, and will stand with you in the fights to come. And when I am President, the American people will once again be able to trust that their government will stand for justice, and will defend the liberties that we hold so dear as vigorously as we defend our security.
I'm not sure why Obama needed to figure out his position; he's consistently voted against the revision of FISA for years. So I guess that means that Obama will be voting against this bill. Which would put him at odds with the vast majority of Americans, who supported this so-called "domestic spying" -- even after the New York Times first exposed it. In fact, Americans were supporting the Bush Administration on this issue even in the New York Times' own poll conducted shortly after their 'expose'.
Oh wait, since this particular wiretapping issue polls well with the American voters, perhaps he'll flip-flop and vote for the revision this time, saying something along the lines of "this revision isn't the revision that I thought I knew", or some such nonsense. If so,
This would be the type of flip-flopping on an issue dear to the Left's cold hearts, along with the Democrats' soon-to-be total capitulation on Iraq war funding, that would enrage their base. And as their base works more on emotion than intellect, they could carry this grudge all the way to election day. That will probably be true on both a Presidential and Congressional level.
So Obama and the Democrats are in a no-win situation, no matter how their mainstream media parses it. If they vote against it, they appear even weaker on national security than they already are. If they vote for it, their words and rhetoric are once again proven to be meaningless.
As for the Independents on whom it appears Election 2008 will hinge, words matter. Promises matter. And it's becoming more and more apparent that the words and the promises of the Democrats', and in particular Barack Obama's, mean nothing.